Hangzhou: Picture perfect

28 Nov 2013 by GrahamSmith
The scenic Chinese city of Hangzhou is enjoying a boom in hotels and high-tech, reports Tracy You To many, the modern Olympic stadium in Beijing and sleek skyscrapers of Shanghai are the defining symbols of 21st-century China. However, as the country enters its 35th year of economic openness, its business future is slowly shifting from the governmental and commercial capitals to dynamic second-tier cities such as Chengdu in the centre, Xiamen in the south and Hangzhou in the east. Forbes China ranked Zhejiang’s provincial capital of Hangzhou as China’s second-best business destination in 2012, after Shanghai, and the city has delivered almost 10 per cent year-on-year GDP growth since 2010, a rate it is expected to maintain until 2015. Situated halfway along the east coast of China, and an hour away from Shanghai by high-speed train, Hangzhou is one of China’s most prosperous, productive and well-positioned cities. Its beautiful landscape, unique culture and healthy economic growth make it an ideal location for high-end business and leisure hotels. As of 2012, the city of 8.8 million had in excess of 2,800 properties, including 20 five-star hotels, mainly international brands. Over the past five years, the familiar logos of Hilton Hotels and Resorts, Intercontinental and JW Marriott have popped up around West Lake and near the city’s central Wulin Square. Some of the most popular top-end hotels include Four Seasons Hangzhou at West Lake, an 81-room property open since 2010 with a stunning entrance garden inspired by ancient Chinese design; the four-year-old, 294-room Wyndham Grand Plaza Royale, offering sweeping lake views; the 16-hectare Shangri-La, which has 383 rooms and suites; and the 390-room Hyatt Regency, which also looks on to the water. The luxury resort scene is even stronger here than in nearby Shanghai, as exclusive brands choose the destination as a way to break into the east China market. Boutique operator Aman runs a 42-room property, Amanfayun, in a Zen-style village near the incense-filled Lingyin Buddhist Temple, while about 20 minutes’ drive north of the Aman retreat is the 72-room Banyan Tree Hangzhou, which opened in 2009 in China’s only urban wetland area, Xixi Wetlands. International hoteliers show no signs of slowing down in this growing market. At least seven global brands have announced they will unveil new properties between now and 2017, most of them leaving the traditional tourist strip around West Lake and making their way to upcoming business districts such as Qianjiang New Town and Binjiang. Both Hilton Worldwide and Wyndham are expanding their presence in the city. The 300-room Doubletree by Hilton Hangzhou East is due to open in February 2014 in the Hangzhou Economic and Technological Development Area, in the eastern suburb. The 250-room Wyndham Hangzhou Binjiang is scheduled for mid-2014 in Qianjiang New Town to the east of the city, while Zurich-based Swiss International has announced a 162-room property for the first quarter of 2016 in Binjiang district’s High-tech Industrial Development Zone, on the south bank of the Qianjiang River. Elisabeth Luu, senior director of corporate communications at Swiss International Hotels and Resorts in China, says: “Hangzhou is one of the few cities in China that has what we call the ‘twin engine’. The tourism market is very robust, and so is the business market. I have been to Binjiang district a few times and can see more and more companies are recognising the energy of that area. Every year there are more companies going into the High-tech Industrial Development Zone.” FRHI Hotels and Resorts, which operates ten hotels in six Chinese cities, has two properties in the pipeline. The 300-room Fairmont Hangzhou is scheduled for 2017 and will house five restaurants, more than 3,000 sqm of meeting space and 180 serviced apartments. A Swissotel property will follow in 2018 with 400 guestrooms and 400 serviced apartments. Both will reside in the city’s tallest building, the 330-metre, 72-storey Hangzhou International Office Centre in Qianjiang Century CBD. Carmen Lam, vice-president of sales and marketing Asia-Pacific for FRHI, explains Hangzhou’s business potential: “With a move towards a service-based economy and the expansion of industries such as e-commerce and technology, [along with] the development of world-class rail and airport infrastructure and an extensive communications network, Hangzhou is poised to offer not only an increasingly skilled labour force but an efficient and effective city for businesses to operate in.” The city’s robust tourism industry is largely driven by its landmark West Lake. The 6.5 sq km UNESCO World Heritage Site, located on the western side of the city, inspired numerous ancient Chinese poets, while its breathtaking scenery has also given Hangzhou its nickname, “Heaven on Earth”. According to the Hangzhou Tourism Committee, some 3.3 million visitors spent 139.2 billion yuan (£14 billion) in the city in 2012, and Hangzhou was expected to bring in 160 billion yuan (£16 billion) from 3.5 million tourists in 2013. Apart from being home to wonderful West Lake, the city is one of China’s seven ancient capitals, having seated the South Song Dynasty’s government in the 12th and 13th centuries. It was also the southern terminal of the world’s oldest and longest manmade waterway, the 2,500-year-old Jinghang Grand Canal leading northwards to Beijing. The fertile city is split by the Qiantang River, a grand waterway that brings spectacular tides every September to the Hangzhou Bay. It is surrounded by lush hills to the north, west and south of West Lake, where the leaves of an aromatic green tea called Dragon Well are produced. It’s not all about tourism, though – Hangzhou is also known for its manufacturing, art, high-tech and e-commerce industries. According to the Yangtze River Delta Regional Plan – a blueprint issued by the General Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China in 2010 – by 2015 the city is due to “establish itself as one of the high-technology bases of China”. The Hangzhou High-tech Industrial Development Zone is a key part of the city’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2010-2015), and Binjiang district authorities are endeavouring to make it the Silicon Valley of Hangzhou. Recent government initiatives for pulling in investment include staging promotional exhibitions in first-tier Chinese cities, shortening business-related government processing time and providing incentives for start-ups by Chinese students returning from overseas. The zone is now home to companies such as financial software and network services supplier Hundsun Technologies Inc, digital technology enterprise Atexco, and China’s largest e-commerce company, Alibaba, which houses 6,000 employees in its offices on Internet Dealers Road (Wangshang Road in Mandarin). Neighbours include Netease, a NASDAQ-listed company and one of China’s four internet portals. Alibaba operates another office near Wensan Road, a more established technology cluster in the west of the city. The 3km-long road and its surrounds have gathered some 3,000 internet and high-tech firms, as well as about 30 universities, scientific labs and schools since 1992. Support from the government, including development of industrial parks such as East Software Park and the piloting of policies to boost online cross-border trade – for example, tax incentives and efficient customs clearance – is also helping the city to grow its IT sector. The financial services industry is similarly booming. Wulin Central Business District, a government-led effort north-east of West Lake, has offices for almost 80 per cent of the financial services organisations in Hangzhou. A growing number of overseas banks, such as HSBC, Citibank and Bank of East Asia, base their headquarters here, and it has been called the “Wall Street of Hangzhou”. In addition, the newer 16 sq km Qianjiang New Town central business district has emerged in the past five years on the east bank of the Qianjiang River. Among the top-notch business hotels is the 391-room Intercontinental Hangzhou, which opened on the waterfront in 2010. Hangzhou’s new metro system, its high-speed connection with China’s commercial heartland of Shanghai and its international airport all contribute to the city’s business potential. Opened in November 2012, the 53km-long metro line is the first subway system in Zhejiang Province. The 31 stations connect residential Linping in the north and Hangzhou Economic and Technological Development Area in the east through the city centre to Binjiang in the south. Hangzhou Xiaoshan airport, situated 27km from the city centre, handled 19 million passengers in 2012. It is China’s sixth-largest in terms of annual international passengers, and it plans to triple its capacity to 52 million by 2015. A US$1.4 billion expansion project – which included a new international terminal, domestic terminal and runway – was completed in December 2012. With such new infrastructure coupled with dynamic economic growth, the future is looking bright for Hangzhou.
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